Tim Butcher, author and explorer: 'Fiction, for me, is about escape'


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Where are you now and what can you see?

In the attic of my Cape Town home. I see the underside of a thatched roof, creaky and leaky from decades of Atlantic storms and, through the window, Africa tapering to the Cape of Good Hope.

What are you currently reading?

Sugar Hall, the latest by Tiffany Murray, a starburst author whose whimsy can feel both shockingly new and yet reassuringly familiar: it's a ghost story from in the Forest of Dean, a murky enough place on a sunny day, murkier still in the hands of such a great writer.

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire him

David Mitchell (not the comic – the other one) for doing special things with timelines and vernacular. Fiction, for me, is about escape and Mitchell has dug tunnels to worlds agape with originality: a whoreson-infested trading post off 18th century Shogunal Japan; a clone-run, Truman Show nightmare of a future.

Describe the room where you usually write

A basement, cool but not cold. Window, viewless but open to the elements. Computer, fast but no internet (v. important). A chair, functional but not comfy. Jack Russell, optional (her choice).

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Edmund Morel – forget other "consciences of the world", Morel did more than any to help his fellow man. He called the Congo atrocities long before Joseph Conrad got there and he read the true origins of the First World War. All the more heroic for being unsung, unpaid and unrecognised.

Tim Butcher's 'The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War' is published by Chatto & Windus